Urban Wire Urbanization's Infrastructure Demands at Home and Abroad
Charles Cadwell
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Jakarta: Eleven time zones' distance gives a different perspective on America’s infrastructure needs. Doubtless, aging American urban areas and demographic changes greatly challenge policymakers looking down the road: In the current political environment can support be mustered to invest in roads, water and sanitation, solid waste, environment and public facilities? Do sharp differences among America’s regions in rates of growth and urbanization undermine necessary consensus on urban fiscal and social policy? The list of questions is longer, but viewed from Jakarta this week, the challenges in the US seem manageable.

Jakarta, with a population of 9.5 million (27 million in the greater metropolitan area) has grown 3.6% per year for the past decade, about double the overall Indonesian population growth rate.  By 2025, Jakarta will join the list of megacities, with the center city population reaching 10.8 million, according to a 2010 UN report. This next spurt will make Jakarta larger than Moscow and put it on a par with Paris.  The proliferation of gleaming office towers that stretch in all directions from downtown is but one measure of dramatic growth.

As you might expect, any prospects for continued growth will require dramatic new investment in infrastructure. Gleaming new toll-ways are already clogged, electricity supply, though much more reliable than in the countryside, is reportedly inconsistent.  Corruption in public procurement dominates local and national headlines, keeping the national Anti-Corruption Commission more than busy. Financing infrastructure in the years ahead will require both public and private investment, though investors are understandably wary of a policy environment still dominated by money politics, opaque regulatory processes, and slowing reform momentum.

Jakarta is not at outlier. While rich countries’  urban population  will grow by some 90 million by 2025, urban population in the least developed parts of the world will increase ten times as much – by more than a billion people – so there will be more than 3 times as many urbanites in poor countries as in rich. While Jakarta and other megacities visibly exemplify this change, fully half of the urban population increase will be in cities smaller than 500,000 – already weakly supported with such urban amenities as roads, water, etc.

The fiscal and policy requirements, if infrastructure is to keep pace with this growth, put the political and economic development of poor countries in sharp relief.  As paralyzed as America’s national and state politics may seem, here in Indonesia it is even more difficult to  reach political consensus on crucial policies, and then even harder to  implement them.  High-profile corruption convictions have not yet altered the norm in governance. Decentralization has not uniformly increased accountability. Although Indonesia has made great democratic progress since 1998, elections in 2014 will center on the personality of candidates from largely indistinguishable parties, on sensational corruption cases,  and —like in the US – on jobs.

For me this signals the need for an additional sort of needed infrastructure investment in Indonesia: that supporting better policy analysis, data collection and research on both infrastructure needs and political and decision-making processes that currently constrain more informed national debate on issues vital to continued growth of this wonderful archipelago so rich and diverse in human and other resources.

Photo by Irwin Fedriansyah/ AP

Research Areas Economic mobility and inequality
Tags Infrastructure International municipal and intergovernmental finance International civil society and democratic institutions International urban development and the environment